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back to article Look out! PEAK WIND is COMING, warns top Harvard physicist

The realistic limits on wind power are probably much lower than scientists have suggested, according to new research, so much so that the ability of wind turbines to have any serious impact on energy policy may well be in doubt. Even if money were no object, the human race would hit Peak Wind output at a much lower level than …

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One question I have always asked myself

If the flapping of the proverbial butterfly wing has an impact of the weather, how come scientists could claim with a straight face that extracting several tera-Watts of power from the climate system will have no effect?

This scientist seems to be asking that self-same question.

This does not mean I am against wind power, I just think we should not blithely assume it does not impact climate in some way.

And of course, as Mustrum Ridcully would say, lets find those bloody butterflies that are causing all these storms

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Megaphone

Re: One question I have always asked myself

It's obvious that extracting kinetic energy from a moving fluid is going to slow that fluid down. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good grant application?

btw - will people *please* stop with this fallacy of the proverbial butterfly wing? Its flapping doesn't *cause* the hurricane, it just buggers up the calculations which would otherwise have allowed the hurricane to be forecast (in the absence of all the other flutterbyes, of course!).

Yes, I *know* you all knew that. But I felt the need for a rant.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Dammit: - you've just nullified my life's mission to prevent hurricanes by pulling the wings off any butterflies I come across.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

The main effect would be one of cooling. All those winds blowing around eventually end up as thermal energy - unless they are converted into some other energy first. A lot of the wind energy currently gets converted into wave energy, but even that eventually gets turned into thermal energy.

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Flame

Re: One question I have always asked myself

Once the wind-generated electricity is "used up" it ends up as heat anyway, so no cooling effect would be noticed.

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Happy

Re: One question I have always asked myself

its a factor of scale, the atmospheric is quite tall and quite large in comparison to every single wind turbine ever built. It's a but like wondering how much extra fuel a single fly hitting your car costs you.

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Pirate

Re: One question I have always asked myself @ Neil Barnes

At first go I read your last sentence as "I felt the need for a grant" and thought - well why not - we give subsidies to much more ludicrous ideas than measuring the climate effects of butterfly wings - wind turbines for example.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

"The main effect would be one of cooling. All those winds blowing around eventually end up as thermal energy - unless they are converted into some other energy first. A lot of the wind energy currently gets converted into wave energy, but even that eventually gets turned into thermal energy."

Only temporarily and to the extent the wind electricity has to be stored, e.g. behind big hydro dams . One the electricity generated is consumed, the consumption results in the same heating as would otherwise have occurred if the wind had blown other stuff around e.g. waves instead of driving wind turbines. I suppose you could argue theoretically that using any kind of sustainable energy locked into aluminium has a similar effect, but it's going to be so miniscule in practice you'll never be able to measure it. Getting people to make their roofs white or black would have a greater cooling or heating effect.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: One question I have always asked myself

Air conditioning?

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Pint

Re: One question I have always asked myself

Don't forget the lizards...pull the legs off the lizards and keep David Ike happy!!

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Devil

Re: One question I have always asked myself

Quote: "The main effect would be one of cooling."

Errr, no. Second law of thermodynamics - you cannot "lose" it (same as you cannot "make" it). It just moves elsewhere. So the "cooling" from slowing down fluid friction will be compensated by emitting heat from all the electrical appliances to a net effect of 0.

In any case, wind gets an unjustifiably high level of attention as a renewable. Solar (both cells and collectors) in the right location (Sahara instead of northern Europe), geothermal, tidal and wave have a much bigger promise. IMHO Europe should be building artificial tidals (4x4 mile simple "holding pen" with turbines on one side, rinse repeat - a standard port digger can build one in a few month) all over the wash, irish sea and the shallows around the North Sea coast. Much better idea than all the windmills because you can use that as an "accumulator" to compensate for fluctuations in demand as well as for proper generation.

All of that is being left untapped at the moment. In fact it is being destroyed as a potential energy source by stupid windmills all over it in a way which prevents us rebuilding that for tidal without demolishing them first.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Yes the heating is the same at the end, but in the meantime humanity has used it for something. Other ways to generate said electricity would generate even more heat on top of the heat that the wind produces anyway.

Wind generators are still a good way to generate clean energy, they just won't be enough for the entire world's demand.

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Re: Butterflies

Ah well, statistics are your friend here. Given a sufficiently large global population of butterflies then the effects of any individual butterly on the weather will tend to be cancelled out by the effects of all the other butterflies. However if the world butterfly population drops below a crucial figure then the averaging effect will be lost, and we will be plagued by butterfly induced hurricanes.

At the moment climate change and habitat loss are approaching the point at which frequent butterfly induced weather problems are impacting the human race as can be seen by the increased incidence of hurricanes. At the moment the best remedy for this is probabably to breed more butterflies.

However if the world butterfly population drops too much then it will become easier to resolve our climate problems by slaughtering every last wild butterfly and only keeping surviving examples in hermetically sealed containers in zoos where they will be unable to influence the weather.

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Re: thermal energy

Even if you extract the energy from the wind (and thereby its resulting thermal energy) it will mostly end up as thermal energy anyway.

First off, a huge % will be lost as friction on the tower, and the blades, generator, etc, Friction directly converts kinetic energy into thermal energy. The wind downstream of a turbine will be slower, but slightly warmer.

The rest leaves the tower as electrical energy. Some of that will be lost along the way as resistive and inductive losses - thermal energy. Some will get lost in transformers - thermal energy.

Eventually it will get used and (mostly) end up in thermal energy. Even light from the most efficient LED lamps mostly gets absorbed and eventually released as thermal energy (the only part that doesn't is light escaping into space).

The only real difference is that we end up using this for our own needs somewhere along the way.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Cooling? Really ...

Where does all of that energy go. Lighting, cars, industry? All things which produce heat as their eventual end product. While it may well produce local cooling, in the absence of storage, the next cooling effect on the system as a whole will be zero.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Re: Cooling

I think this could actually be a problem - as you (and everyone else) point out the net TEMPERATURE effect is zero, but local cooling/heating are likely to have large effects on the weather. If we assume the turbines are largely located where people are not (and obviously people's use is where they are) we could get some large temperature differentials.

Rule of thumb: It's a mistake to sum across the whole planet when making a prediction that affects anything on the planet. We all know how bad weather forecasts can be despite the fact they use points in the range of a mile apart. This is on the order of 196,912,101 times less accurate.

Not to mention the possible effects on wildlife / crops etc. of the local temperature changes.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

One thing I've been curious of, is what happens to the wind without wind turbines. I'd expect, that if wind hit a mountain etc., some of the energy would be absorbed as heat.

I may be totally wrong here, so feel free to correct me, but wouldn't this mean that loads of turbines would reduce global temperature because they'd be removing frictional heat otherwise caused by the wind?

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@contents may vary: Re: One question I have always asked myself

ooops, I see you answered my question before i asked it *blush*

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

The one question I keep asking myself, is just how much $$$ do the oil lobbies put in to discredit alternative forms of energy...

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Holmes

Re: One question I have always asked myself

There are no oil companies anymore.. just energy companies.. and they are all investing into research on renewable energy... do you really think those massive companies will just run themselves into the ground as oil runs out and then finally file for bankrupcy?

If you want to see what energy generating (converting) technologies are viable, then look to see what these companies are pooling their resources into. Governments (actually politicians, which is not the same thing) need to look good in front of their people, and can't afford not to put up wind turbines (seeing as this was what this article was about)... large vertically integrated energy companies are responsible to their shareholders and need to provide return on investments.. Look to them if you want to see what is viable and what is going to be our energy future. (Although renewables are now decade or two further away since we figured out how to extract gas and oil from shale... once those get too expensive to extract you'll suddenly find Shell or Exxon biodiesel made from algae hitting the market)

The green revolution is coming, its just not led by the people you wanted it to be led by.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

If you're concerned about wind turbines having an effect on wind:

- Be concerned about the impact of cutting trees and deforestation

- Be concerned about the impact of urban buildup and tall buildings

- Think about the natural variation in wind resistance from hills, mountains, lakes and oceans

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Mushroom

@oddie 08:39: Re: One question I have always asked myself

>do you really think those massive companies will just run themselves into the ground as oil runs out and then finally file for bankrupcy?

Of course they will, and they are doing so everywhere we look throughout history. The banks are the current example. These companies are not being run by people with brains, they are being run by people addicted to money. They care not a jot about the facts.

This is obvious to anybody who has been in a meeting with these muppets presenting them with facts. Facts which invariably they listen to, and then respond with something along the lines of 'so would it be fair to say that this can be interpretted as...X' (insert appropriate misinterpretation of the truth). Boffin responds, 'well not really, you're distorting the facts...' (insert appropriate attempt to have the muppet see the truth). To which the muppet will tirelessly respond with 'but that means...' etc until Edgar J. Boffin gives up and decides he will be better off back in the lab arguing with figures and spreadsheets, at least the problems with logic and truth there are down to his own understanding and he can adjust that.

Muppets then, once rid of said boffin, re-interpret and mangle the truth until it is unrecognisable yet marketable.

Meanwhile the cocktail party continues without the boffin, who is perfectly content once he doesn't have to go to any more of those meetings where he painstakingly tries to point out the truth which isn't acceptable to shareholders.

Yes, they will career headfirst into a bankruptcy situation and then look mystified when the bubble bursts. That's what bubbles do. Unfortunately the oil bubble is particularly resistant to bursting, something to do with the consistency of oil perhaps (now there's a sentence loaded with double meaning.) Despite the evidence that this is how human greed works these muppets will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

It's the Dunning-Kreuger effect. It's life. It sucks.

Cheats rise to power, and they are the ultimate problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: One question I have always asked myself

You make me laugh. Stop thinking that these people have anyone but their own best interests at heart. They are just normal people with all the failings of normal people. With shareholders that ensure that their primary concerns (and legally constrained concerns I might add) are the short and not the long term.

Hence, they are as guilty as anyone in lobbying for tax breaks and playing the marketing game.

The real truth of the matter is that by simply designing homes better the vast majority of people could cut their heating/cooling bills by almost 100%. Unfortunately there are too many vested interests that stop most countries from moving towards sanity.

Even the idea of building massive global wind farms is ridiculous, if only for the reason that the transport of electricity over large distances results in massive losses ... electricity is much better generated locally. Of course small scale local production isn't going supply everyone's needs and wind or sun or waves aren't available everywhere so the rational person would suggest that there is no single solution, just a patchwork of locally relevant ones.

As for bio diesel made from Algae .... that's decades old tech and wasn't invented by big oil. So you've kind of stabbed yourself in the back by showing that big oil (or as you want to call them energy companies) have buried viable technology so they can continue making money from what they know and love best ... OIL.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Well the main issue here is not the resultant and basically inconsequential drag on the global air streams, it's the bio-centripital forces acting on the earth, from the spinning turbine blades, through the shafts and towers.

If there is a harmonic wave of inversive reactance, then the whole earth could flip on it's axis, when the turbines twist out of global alignment.

Then, and only then, will we really be in the shit.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

@Anon 10:57:

"You make me laugh. Stop thinking that these people have anyone but their own best interests at heart. They are just normal people with all the failings of normal people. With shareholders that ensure that their primary concerns (and legally constrained concerns I might add) are the short and not the long term."

Having shareholders means some short term outlook and some long term. You get both kinds of investors. However, having shareholders mean that they are responsible to grow those investments, which means they wont invest in technology or projects that are unprofitable. Wind would be profitable if we didn't have lots of other technologies which are far superior in terms of CO2 emissions, cost and reliability... once oil is gone, if biodiesel (either algae or bio-ethanol from sugar-cane leftovers) doesn't come through, or photo voltaics don't go anywhere.. and we find that nuclear with its somewhat complicated economy (mining ore/reactor tech etc) actually turns out more expensive, then wind will be viable. it doesn't look like it will though, unless the various governments continue to subsidise the industry surrounding it (which isn't a problem in itself.. just means we aren't using the most economical/efficient way of producing power.. cheaper forms of energy like gas in effect subsidises the more expensive ones like wind)

"As for bio diesel made from Algae .... that's decades old tech and wasn't invented by big oil. So you've kind of stabbed yourself in the back by showing that big oil (or as you want to call them energy companies) have buried viable technology so they can continue making money from what they know and love best ... OIL."

Most of the renewable tech we have is decades old... photovoltaic, solarthermal, geothermal, hydroelectirc, biomass, wind/water/tidal generators... Energy Companies (Or big oil as you want to call them ;)) are very good at looking for new sources of energy.. it's what they do: find source of energy>find way to transport energy to market>profit. Which is why they are also the most likely organisations to be still delivering our energy once oil becomes too expensive to recover.

The reason why the worlds motor cars don't already run on renewable energy is because a) oil is still cheaper, and b) renewables are still more expensive. Sooner or later there will be a shift (actually later, as my original post mentioned.. now we have shale gas and oil.. postponing the enevitable move to renewables). Exxon is investing in algae based biodiesel. Shell is investing heavily in brazil, turning waste from sugar cane production into fuel (I don't remember if its biodiesel or needs blending. I am not sure what BP is doing but last I heard they were still into Wind energy but were getting out of Solar.

This doesn't make them loving caring charitable organisations that just what is best for the world.. and no, they didn't invent these technologies.. they are just the ones that are spending the most on research to improve them.. Which makes them the organisations most likely to provide the worlds energy mix also in the future.

Unless 'Clean Coal' finally comes through obviously (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130206093547.htm) and we end up with the coal companies becoming the de factor energy providers for the next 100 years.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

*Icke

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Trollface

Re: One question I have always asked myself

quote: "Well the main issue here is not the resultant and basically inconsequential drag on the global air streams, it's the bio-centripital forces acting on the earth, from the spinning turbine blades, through the shafts and towers.

If there is a harmonic wave of inversive reactance, then the whole earth could flip on it's axis, when the turbines twist out of global alignment.

Then, and only then, will we really be in the shit."

What? I don't think any amount of wind turbines would be able to reliably spin the earth 180°, and since the moment applied to the earth from the turbines is reliant purely on wind direction, I'm pretty sure the overall effect is going to be similar to that applied by the wind to any other structure, natural or not (mountains and tower blocks are both viable carriers of wind kinetic energy).

Also, plate tectonics: turbines are not attached to a solid homogeneous system, they are attached to a mobile plate floating on top of a soup (magma flavour). Turbines on the eurasian plate may or may not be competing with turbines on the african plate, the north american plate, the indian, arabian, australian and filipino plates (these are just the ones bounding the eurasian plate btw, there are more). These plates are already moving in different directions anyway, so the net overall effect on the earths spin is going to be at best bastard hard to compute, and at worst fucking impossible.

Although you do raise the important climatological point of wind turbines possibly contributing to increased tectonic activity at active plate boundaries. Quick! Somebody should tell the government that wind turbines might cause earthquakes!

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Its a closed system. All the power extracted will be returned as waste heat. I was going to say nearly, but in the end all of it minus whatever radiates to space.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

really? What about the energy that is emitted as light by the screens? How does that make it back to thermal in the atmosphere - we know from looking at the earth from outside that some at least escapes to space. Then perhaps the energy used to lift my lardy backside to the top of the hill is magically thermal instead of potential energy? Not all energy taken from the atmosphere will return as heat.

Still, I doubt any of this will stop the UK government continuing to spend billions of our pounds on foreign made windmills dotted all over the landscape, standing idle like so many white elephants for 80% of the time while their bearings are bust, the wind is too strong or there is no wind at all. Worse of course is that because they are so totally useless we still have to generate electricity the old fashioned way, so when these white elephants do eventually stir their stumps the energy is largely chucked away because we are already producing the electricity we need and have no way of switching the old fashioned plant off so quickly.

Bloody waste predicated on a 'scientific fact' which itself is balanced on forged and unreliable results manipulated by a bunch of beardies with a research grant to obtain. I think I'd rather go back to when politicians and scientists all believed in the wonder of eugenics.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Indeed.

Which is why you don't build wind turbines behind: trees, tall buildings, hills. The whole premise of the article was that current calculations for wind farms assume they don't take any energy out of the wind. Why would a tree take energy out, but not a white thing shaped a bit like a tree?

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

It's the first law of thermodynamics which says you can't lose or make energy. The second law says that you can't convert heat into work with 100% efficiency.

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Re: One question I have always asked myself

Eventually it all does radiate out into space. Otherwise six billion years of sunlight would have made the earth a tad warm.

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Alert

Peak Beans

When I hear 'Peak Wind', why do I suddenly get a vision of Blazing Saddles.

Childish? Probably. Funny? Hell, yes.

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Anonymous Coward

Sheesh! What do these guys know anyway. Now if they were real scientists maybe they'd be taken seriously...oh, wait - they are.

Damn, now the Pro-Wind lobby will have to think of another argument to dismiss findings which pour cold water on their money making (sorry - energy making) schemes. I know!! They're right whatever anyone says!! So ner-ner to you!!

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JDX
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You mean like the real scientists who disagree with them?

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@JDX Which ones? You mean the ones with flaky 'environmental science' degrees?

We have kids in the 5th and 6th forms at the moment. There 'environmental science' is option for the kids that can't do sums. Is it the same at Uni?

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Holmes

@Sirus Lee flaky 'environmental science' degrees?

Not in my experience, I remember follow students doing a post grad degree in Environmental Physics in the 1970s. To reach that that needed a conventional BSc.

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I'm shocked, shocked...

...to find that it was all just another con-trick, transferring taxpayers' money to politically collected developers in exchange for naff all of any value.

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JDX
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Re: I'm shocked, shocked...

Hmm, obviously the moment science appears which supports a cynical viewpoint it's taken as gospel truth? Hardly a scientific approach.

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Re: Hardly a scientific approach.

Statistically, is is though. Since almost everything that government does tends to enrich the politically connected few at the expense of everybody else, it follows that "science" which supports a government programme is more likely to be fabricated at the behest of vested interests and therefore false, while that which opposes it is more likely to be honest, since it has no bunch of crooks to please and therefore stands a better chance of being correct.

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Re: Hardly a scientific approach.

But obviously this isn't true for existing vested interests in fossils and nukes.

Those would never dream of buying governments and running propaganda campaigns to protect their profits.

Not even when they're called ALEC, and they lie for a living:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/putting-an-end-to-renewable-energy-too-expensive-myth.html

No - it's only those evil renewables that do this, and would ever think of doing it.

Now, I'm not suggesting the Register takes Koch coin to keep publishing this crap. But for a magazine staffed by intelligent people, it certainly makes a habit of distorting the truth on a regular basis.

Those poor, saintly, put-upon, innocent nuke and fossil lobbyists must be crying into their subsidised hundreds of billions at the rank unfairness and immorality of it all.

As for the 'science' - anyone who thinks the wind industry has any serious interest in covering the entire earth's surface with windmills is a few developers short of a product launch anyway.

Pretty much everyone with more than a couple of working neurons understands that 'renewables' includes a mix of modes, and always has done.

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FAIL

Re: Hardly a scientific approach.

Anything with "Koch" in it should be disregarded, unless it is ALSO accompanied by the picture of the Koch Brothers torturing Progressive Damsels in an underground lair in Montana while stroking white fluffy cats and reading Ayn Rand.

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Re: I'm shocked, shocked...

or connected even...

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Happy

Re: I'm shocked, shocked...

Well spotted! Similarly, "is is" should have read "it is".

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Re: Hardly a scientific approach.

You may or may not like ALEC but the article to which you link is severely flawed: it doesn't take into account state and central government subsidies. Of course there appears to be no correlation between the amount of renewables and the cost per unit of power because that's the subsidy. What moron legislator would propose an expense renewables project and not include a lot of state funding for it?

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Re: Hardly a scientific approach.

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.

This study does not meet up to SkepticalSc....(whatever) ideology of PAL review and that any arguement against the holy doctrine of CAGW is blasphemy.

Burn the witches.

Don't forget to tithe to the almighty Goreacle.

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Holmes

This should not be a surprise.

Our main and best power source, on this planet, is the nearby star. Wind power is a ridiculously indirect and inefficient way to harness it. We can and should do better than this.

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JDX
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Re: This should not be a surprise.

Let me get this perfectly clear so there's no doubt.

Collecting energy caused by the sun causing air currents to move around is a hopelessly indirect method of harnessing the sun's energy.

Collecting energy caused by the sun's light being collected by forests growing over hundreds of years which then die and rot and over millions of years are converted into coal/oil which we expend tremendous effort digging up and treating and transporting all around the world, and then burn, is sensible and efficient.

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FAIL

Re: This should not be a surprise.

Just because leaping off a cliff is madness, doesn't make climbing the cliff sane.

Burning oil is foolish - if nothing else, it's far more useful as a raw material than a fuel.

However, building wind turbines is also foolish.

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